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Balkan Report: July 17, 2001

17 July 2001, Volume 5, Number 49

MACEDONIANS REACT TO ALBANIAN PROPOSALS. During the past week, a number of proposals and counter-proposals to end the ongoing crisis have been put forward in Skopje. Things started in earnest on 9 July, when international mediators Francois Leotard of the EU and U.S. envoy James Pardew presented their "framework proposal." Skopje newspapers published this document only after the ethnic Albanian parties had openly criticized it (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2001).

By then, it was already clear that the Albanian parties would come up with a rival document of their own. This proposal, again, was publicly debated before it was published in full, in this case by the Skopje tabloid "Vecer" on 12 July.

The international community's mediators intended their framework document to serve as a basis for further talks and left many issues open for discussion. But at the same time, Pardew and Leotard made it clear that they are not willing to talk about changes that go too far beyond the limits set by their framework.

The joint platform of the ethnic Albanian parties, on the other hand, is very specific. It outlines not only the legal, constitutional, and administrative changes the parties demand; it also includes a -- rather unrealistic -- time-schedule for the proposed changes, setting down a precise, day-by-day time frame for each specific step to be taken.

As far as the constitutional changes to improve the legal status of the large Albanian minority are concerned, the working paper of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) includes no basically new demands. Apart from creating the position of vice president with a veto right over important decisions, the paper contains the already known -- and generally accepted -- formula of introducing some elements of decision-making by consensus into the legislative process.

Large parts of the Albanian platform concern expanding the role of local self-government. Just before the clashes broke out between the Albanian guerilla fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces earlier this year, a new law on this subject had been slated for approval.

But the biggest difficulties have proven to be the language question, as well as the Albanian demand to place the local police under municipal control rather than under that of the Interior Ministry.

During the talks in recent days, it has become increasingly clear that the Macedonian side will not accept introducing the Albanian language as the second official language, after Macedonian. PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci told the Skopje daily "Dnevnik" of 16 July, however, that an agreement on this issue is not far off.

The more nationalistic Macedonian press has supported the Macedonian politicians in their reluctance to make Albanian an official language. Thus, under a headline reading "They demand [the status of an] official language, but they don't even have interpreters for market-place gossip," the tabloid "Vecer" pointed out on 14 July that there are simply not enough interpreters available to make the administration either bilingual or multilingual.

On a quite different level, law Professor Gordana Siljanovska criticized not only the Albanian approach to the language question, but the process of the current peace talks as a whole. In a lengthy interview with the daily "Utrinski vesnik" of 14 July, she slammed the talks between President Boris Trajkovski, the four leaders of the main government parties, and the international mediators as unconstitutional. One of the problems she pointed to is that the current government lacks legitimacy. She notes that it was not democratically elected but formed under the pressure of the international community.

Siljanovska also draws attention to the problem that the Macedonian parliament is excluded from the discussions on constitutional and legal changes. "Is it possible that wars promote 'peaceful and harmonious' development?" she asks. "Is it possible that an illegitimate government can initiate changes? The four [party leaders], together with the mediators, have proclaimed themselves to be a constitutional assembly and now are playing the 'founding fathers' from the times of the Philadelphia convention in 1787." Siljanovska concludes the interview with the statement that "treaties made under pressure are void."

Diplomat Dusan Bojcev made similar points in a commentary for the daily "Dnevnik" on 16 July. In his article, the author accused the leader of the PDSH, Arben Xhaferi, of playing a double game. With his "ideas of some kind of consensus democracy, of a nebulous binational state, of some kind of a tribal (as opposed to civil) democracy etc., Mr. Xhaferi seeks to completely cripple the machinery of the state of Macedonia," Bojcev claimed.

And one S. Popovski, in his article for "Makedonija denes" of 14 July, says that it is totally unclear "why in a state that aims at building a civil society, one has to insist on the introduction of a mechanism in the legislative branch that is based on national affinity."

Should the talks end successfully and soon, as Leotard has suggested, the Macedonian government and the international community will have to explain the compromises very carefully to the voters in order to legitimize the arrangement. Otherwise, any peace is likely to prove short-lived. (Ulrich Buechsenschuetz,

KOSTUNICA FINDS MILOSEVIC TRIAL 'TOO PAINFUL TO WATCH.' Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica recently gave an interview to several domestic and foreign publications, in which he rejected claims that Serbia needs a "catharsis" to rid its society and political culture of the poison that led to the rise of Milosevic and his four disastrous wars (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 12 July 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 January 2001).

Kostunica argued that there can be no coming to terms with the past or reconciliation as long as "those responsible for the NATO attacks on Yugoslavia are not included," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 6 July. He stressed that it is not fair to demand that Serbs undergo a catharsis unless former NATO commander General Wesley Clark, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke also have to "answer for their legal as well as moral responsibility."

In addition to the three former top officials from the U.S., Kostunica singled out for criticism Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor. He argued that she is anti-Serb and given to using dubious legal practices. He charged that she should be investigating NATO as well as Serbs for war crimes.

Kostunica called the tribunal's indictments formalistic and lacking in substance. He said that he finds it strange that there have been no indictments for crimes against Serbs in Kosova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Krajina.

And when asked whether he watched Milosevic's appearance before the tribunal on television, Kostunica replied that he did not "because it would have been too painful for me."

Several of Kostunica's colleagues from within the Democratic Opposition of Serbia objected to these remarks and to his general opposition to the arrest of Milosevic. The critics argued that Kostunica is a "hostage to his own political views" and incapable of change.

Perhaps in this context, one reader wrote recently to "Danas," noting that Serbia today faces the choices that Germany did in 1918 and 1945. Those choices, the reader argued, are "between Nazism and democracy." What the reader said is lacking, however, is a Serbian Konrad Adenauer anywhere on the political horizon. (Patrick Moore)

SELEZNEV WANTS RUSSIAN LAWYERS TO DEFEND MILOSEVIC. Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev said on 13 July that Russian lawyers should play a role in the defense of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic at the international tribunal in The Hague, ITAR-TASS reported. "If Milosevic needs more arguments for turning his trial into a trial of NATO," Seleznev said, "then Russian lawyers could be most helpful." (Paul Goble)

GAY-BASHING IN SERBIA. Gay and lesbian organizations have been part of the civil society in Slovenia since the late 1980s. Similar organizations have emerged, however hesitantly, in Croatia in the years since independence. But only on 30 June did Serbia witness its first organized, public demonstration of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals.

The gathering of several hundred people in Belgrade's central Trg Republike was not to everyone's liking, however. The organized fans of the soccer clubs Rad, Partizan, and Crvena Zvezda -- who are otherwise bitter rivals -- came into downtown for gay-bashing in the most literal sense of the word. "Vesti" reported on 2 July that the hooligans were aided by theology students and members of some radical nationalist organizations. Photos showed some of the youthful attackers sporting traditional Chetnik hats, beards, or flags.

When it was over, some 15 gays and their attackers were injured, and two policemen were seriously hurt. Some 30 hooligans were arrested. Some of the demonstrators said that many police stood by and watched the melee, taking little or no action. "Vesti's" reporter wrote, however, that the number of those injured would have been much higher had it not been for the diligence of the police.

On 10 July, "Vesti" published the results of a recent poll suggesting that homophobia is, in fact, the norm rather than the exception in Serbia. According to the survey, taken among an unspecified number of citizens of Serbia by the daily "Politika," some 76.4 percent of the respondents consider homosexuals to be sick people. Only 12.5 percent of those interviewed called gays "normal."

Asked how one should deal with homosexuals, some 54.3 percent of the respondents suggested that medical treatment is the best way. An additional 14.5 percent would "ban" them, while 10.2 percent would "isolate" gays, presumably in the manner in which lepers were long treated. Only 12.9 percent of the respondents suggested that homosexuals should be dealt with as with anyone else.

The findings of the survey probably come as no surprise to observers familiar with the cultural norms in much of the Orthodox world.

Finally, it might be noted that Bosnia -- alone of the former Yugoslav republics -- has yet to decriminalize same-sex relations. It must do so if it expects to obtain membership in the Council of Europe, which is high on the agenda of most political parties. (Patrick Moore)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "Mr. Kissinger suggests in his new book on U.S. foreign policy that the great powers may instead want to convene an international conference to design and guarantee 'a political solution' for the Balkans. The idea appeals to the intellect's need for clarity and finality. But neither clarity nor finality is attainable without great sacrifice in this era of hard-won cease-fires. Halting the killing for a prolonged period measured in years is an adequate, if incomplete, goal for U.S. policy in the Balkans, and perhaps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the foreseeable future." -- Jim Hoagland in "The Washington Post," 12 July 2001.

"At a certain point, the Albanians will have to hear that this is it -- this is the best they're going to get. And the Macedonians will have to know that it's not going to get any worse than this. The Macedonians want to know this is the end of the game." -- Unnamed Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity in Skopje. Quoted in "The Washington Post" on 12 July.